Under the EU's Humanitarian Implementation Plan the budget for Ukraine and region is €88.5m for this year —compared to the 2023 budget of €335.4m.  (Photo: Caritas)


While military aid soars, humanitarian help for Ukraine plummets

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If you were to be dropped into one of the major cities of Ukraine in the centre or west of the country – such as Lviv or Kyiv – on an ordinary Tuesday morning, you would think that everything is normal. 

In these energetic and picturesque European cities, parents walk their children to school, cafes spill over with students and the aroma of specialty coffee and the crisp energy of spring fills the air. 

Until all at once, the sound of an air raid alarm pierces the air and the illusion of normalcy is broken. 

While this is normal life for Ukrainians, it seems that for the rest of the world, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has started to fade into the background. The stories of missiles striking schools and hospitals and residents sheltering in metro stations are fading into our collective subconscious. 

Despite renewed international support and military aid for the Ukrainian state, funds allocated to the humanitarian sector are alarmingly decreasing.

Donors, including Germany, the UK and the EU, have already announced dramatic budget cuts to humanitarian aid for Ukraine. This is in spite of the fact that 14.6 million people – about 40 per cent of the Ukrainian population living in Ukraine – will need humanitarian assistance in 2024, according to the UN’s Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan.

In particular, the European Commission (ECHO) released at the beginning of the year the funding for each region in what is called the Humanitarian Implementation Plan - for 2024 the budget for Ukraine and region is €88.5m compared to 2023 budget of €335.4m. 

For humanitarian organisations based in Ukraine, like Caritas, the reality and brutality of the war is always at the forefront of their minds. So too is the fear of being forgotten by the rest of the world. As two nationally-based organisations providing humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, Caritas Ukraine and Caritas-Spes Ukraine are rooted in the local community and were providing social services long before the start of Russia’s invasion into the country in 2014. 

On my recent visit to Ukraine, I was struck by my own misconceptions about the gravity of the humanitarian crisis continuing to unfold in Ukraine.

Calm cities mask countless displaced

Beneath the calm exterior in western cities like Lviv and Kyiv are countless stories of internally displaced people who have sought shelter in these cities – stories of displacement, loss and fear for the lives of their families and friends near the frontlines. 

During my visit to a shelter for internally displaced people in Lviv Oblast, one mother from Sloviansk, a city in Donetsk Oblast, shared with me how much she misses her hometown, known for its hot springs that are said to have healing properties. Now, she told me: “I live day by day. I don’t have any dreams for the future.”

Another woman, tears in her eyes, told me how she longs to return home to Kharkiv. Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv faces nearly constant bombardment, with residents having only about four hours of electricity a day. “I try to call my mother (in Kharkiv) often, but sometimes she isn’t able to respond to my calls because the electricity or phone connection isn’t working.”

After the recent Russian attacks on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure, several European countries (including Germany and Sweden) have sent immediate material aid to Ukraine through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

This demonstrates concrete attention to the country's current emergencies, and perhaps can divert the attention on the serious ongoing funding cuts; considering that according to the UN only 26 percent of the needed funds for 2024 have been provided as of early June 2024.

Markiyan Stefanyshyn of Caritas-Spes' Ukraine office in Lviv, recounted his many visits to the frontlines with trucks full of food aid. “There is still a huge need for humanitarian assistance in many, many cities near the front line,” he insists.

Money is worthless because there is nothing left to buy

“I’ve been to these cities – in some places, money is worthless because there is nothing left to buy. Some cities are completely destroyed and people who have left will have no home to return to.”

For nationally-based humanitarian organisations that existed in Ukraine prior to the full-scale invasion and will continue their work long after the war ends, international support and solidarity are crucial to sustain their ongoing work.

While the world may be returning to business as usual, people continue to face staggering physical and psychological needs as the war rages on. One Caritas staff told of several children who had sheltered for an extended period of time under occupation and intense bombardment and who stopped speaking due to the prolonged trauma they had faced. 

Tetiana Stawnychy, president of Caritas Ukraine, said: “When we think of humanitarian assistance, we can’t only think of material assistance, although this is urgently needed. People are facing real trauma, and this requires long-term psycho-social assistance.”

She is convinced that this long-term work is dependent on the continued solidarity and support of donors and partners. “Localisation isn’t just about the work of local and national organisations delivering services — it’s also about the intermediaries and donors that build a bridge to provide this solidarity and support. We all have an important role to play.” 

During my visit to Ukraine, I met warehouse workers who volunteer their time to Caritas-Spes Ukraine to load trucks for delivery to the frontlines. Many staff members of Caritas Ukraine are internally displaced themselves – some of whom have moved to the west of the country with their beneficiaries, including people with disabilities, who they continue to serve.

Their dedication stands in stark contrast to the growing fatigue of the international community to continue to fund the humanitarian response in Ukraine.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s, not those of EUobserver

Author Bio

Abriel Schieffelers is humanitarian advocacy officer for Caritas Europa

Under the EU's Humanitarian Implementation Plan the budget for Ukraine and region is €88.5m for this year —compared to the 2023 budget of €335.4m.  (Photo: Caritas)


Author Bio

Abriel Schieffelers is humanitarian advocacy officer for Caritas Europa


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